Editorial: Designated drivers are the heroes in Hunterdon County

Hunterdon County Democrat Editorial Board

Scores of brothers and sisters, friends dear or casual and even some moms and dads will be heroes this holiday season. That’s what William Elliott of Atlantic County calls the designated drivers who agree to serve as taxi drivers, or order alcohol-free drinks throughout the evening, so that others can get home safely.

Twelve years ago his son John, a recent graduate of the Naval Academy, was heading home to celebrate his mom Muriel’s birthday. He never made it; a drunk driver hit John’s car head-on, killing the young man.

Since then William Elliott has worked to keep those who have imbibed from getting behind the wheel. The point of his HERO Campaign for Designated Drivers, kicked off last month in Hunterdon, isn’t to stop people from meeting friends at a bar or having a few glasses of wine at a dinner party.

Elliott’s goal is to get them to make the designated driver second nature, “as automatic as wearing a seatbelt.” The state Attorney General Office released statistics earlier this year on a 2011 observational survey conducted by Fairleigh Dickinson University, saying that 94.5% of front-seat motorists and passengers wore their seatbelts, compared with 81% in 2003.

For many twenty-somethings today, deciding the evening’s “DD” is already routine.

Siblings old enough to drive, but too young to join them at a bar, usually top the list. They don’t ask, they don’t tell. In some circles friends take turns as the DD. They’re still out with their pals, and many bars offer DDs free soft drinks, helpful when pay day’s still a week away.

Or, a group may split the cost of a hired car or taxi. The latter have become more common in area towns in recent years.

The trick is getting through to the young person who would rather drive drunk than call a parent and risk getting “yelled at,” the 30-something meeting a single friend and unwilling to pay the cost of driver, or the older driver who erroneously believes that his or her driving skills are undiminished by a few beers during the game or a fine vintage shared at a restaurant.

Young or old, everyone has a favorite superhero whether it’s Captain America, Iron Man or Wonder Woman. But the real heroes are those who save lives in the real world, not the silver screen. That’s what designated drivers do.

And, as any hero can tell you, saving lives isn’t an imposition, it’s an honor.


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